Jacques Brel is one of the finest musicians to come out of Belgium. His songs are characterized by their brilliant lyrics, which range from the poetic to the comedic, often featuring cutting satire and profound political statements. But perhaps even more brilliant are his performances of those songs; on stage, Brel becomes his songs, delivering them with an intensity that is mesmerizing. Here are 11 of his songs that shouldn’t be missed.
What could be more typical of Brussels than Jacques Brel singing about Brussels?
Ne Me Quitte Pas
A list of Jacques Brel songs would not be complete without this one. A raw, emotional plea for a lover to stay.
Le Plat Pays
In “Le Plat Pays”, Brel captures all the melancholy of the Belgian landscape.
Brel’s lonely and quiet childhood is beautifully evoked in this song.
La Valse à Mille Temps
This track is remarkable for its tempo and energy.
This is the only song where Brel sings in both French and Dutch, making it quintessentially Belgian. The girl Marieke in question is the object of his affections and regret, as he sings about their past relationship.
This song is a vitriolic criticism towards the upper classes and their way of life; Brel even goes so far as to compare them to “cochons” or pigs in the chorus.
Brel sings about a family, whose members he describes harshly until the last chorus, where it transpires he is in love with the daughter, Frieda.
This is the original version of Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun”. Instead of being a saccharine farewell to loved ones, Brel’s dying narrator mocks the insincere group of mourners at his funeral.
Dans le Port d’Amsterdam
The characters and local color of the port of Amsterdam is brought to life with Brel’s masterful lyrics.
This song paints a rather unflattering portrait of the Flemish, but it is impossible not to see its comic brilliance.
By Stephanie Benoit
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